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Play ball: Reno Aces pitch a change-up for 2022 season

By Michael Smyth

The Reno Aces kick off their 2022 campaign Tuesday, April 5 with a six-game roadie against the Las Vegas Aviators before returning home to host the Sacramento River Cats at Greater Nevada Field. The home opener is April 12 at 1:05 p.m.

The Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A affiliate has a new manager, new food items, new threads, and even some new game features that are being tested for Major League Baseball. Additionally, what’s old is new again and Greater Nevada Field goes smoke-free in 2022.

The Reno Aces manager – Gil Velazquez

Reno Aces manager Gil Velazquez.
Image: Reno Aces / MLB

The second-youngest manager in Aces history takes over from Blake Lalli and brings the experiences of a long playing career as well as seven seasons coaching with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers organizations.

Triple-A is a challenging and exciting assignment. Players are there coming up, coming down, rehabbing, staying ready, starting a career or holding onto the last games of a career. And the manager is tasked with taking all of that and pushing for one thing: focus.

“You’re trying to stay in the moment trying to perform, trying to get to the big leagues. But what helped me the most, which is what I’m going to try to instill in guys the most, is just stay focused and try to win the ballgame,” Velazquez says. “The more you focus on the team, the easier things are.”

Velazquez played in Triple-A across 11 different seasons, so the former infielder knows the grind that comes with the highest level in MiLB.

“A lot of it isn’t the physical part, it’s more of the mental and emotional. You see guys go up, guys go down, you see some of the guys that come down come down with a bitterness,” he explains. “But you’ll see some guys with some different mentalities. You have to have some patience for sure, you’ve got to hold them accountable but find ways to address them. Everyone has very different personalities. But I’m excited for those challenges.”

New “Vs.” food offerings

The Reno Aces have partnered with Pro Sports Catering to create food items tailored to each opponent that visits Greater Nevada Field. The custom food options are in addition to the regular food items offered at Comstock Grill, Biggest Little Grill, Pizza Factory, Burgertopia, and Sausage Cart. Specific “Vs.” items will only be available during each particular opponents’ visit to Reno

The Sacramento River Cats not only bring Triple-A the prospects of the San Francisco Giants, but also add the option of chowing down on a burger or dog smothered in bacon and gooey macaroni and cheese, or munching on a basket of salty sweet potato fries. Each series will also include a drink special.

Get your Stinger Dogs when the Salt Lake Bees come to town: Bacon Wrapped Jumbo Hot Dog topped with blue cheese crumble and buffalo sauce at Greater Nevada Field (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

If you’re a wing sauce and blue cheese fan, the next home series vs. the Salt Lake Bees beginning April 19 features a hot dog and burger loaded with those flavors. I had a chance to try the third item available for that series. A slightly sweet mound of tender pulled pork paired beautifully with the mildly pungent bleu and a tart, peppery wing sauce with enough bite to notice (but keep going back for more). Oh, and it all sits atop a bed of fries for a complete meal that’s sure to find my belly again.

Some of the other scrumptiousness I’m looking forward to trying again are the “Hangover Burger” with cheese, bacon, hash browns, all topped with a fried egg (Las Vegas), “Patty Melt” with muenster cheese and grilled onions on Texas toast (Tacoma Rainiers), and the “Nacho Dog” loaded with ground beef, tortilla strips, and topped with a river of creamy nacho cheese sauce (Oklahoma City Dodgers). 

No word if bibs will be provided, so dress accordingly. The complete list of food and drink offerings for each series can be viewed here.

The Aces will be announcing dates soon for their special event nights. You didn’t hear it from me, but you might want to get those Star Wars costumes ready (wink). The food options available only for the event nights are some of the yummiest I was able to sample and you won’t want to miss them. More on those later this season.

The return of the PCL!

Triple-A West is no more. The measure was in place since 2019 while MLB acquired the use rights for the historic original league names. The Pacific Coast League will however have a new logo, and thus some new merch opportunities, beginning in 2022.

The Pacific Coast League will have ten Triple-A teams: Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies), El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres), Las Vegas Aviators (Athletics), Oklahoma City Dodgers (duh), Reno Aces (Diamondbacks), Round Rock Express (Rangers), Sacramento River Cats (Giants), Salt Lake Bees (Angels), Sugar Land Space Cowboys (Astros) and Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners).

Three rules and you’re out

Or in, I’m not sure which, but check these new twists being added into live Triple-A game mode that may find their way to the big show in the coming years.

A new pitch timer will speed of up the pace of play at Greater Nevada Field with penalties for batters and pitchers if they run out the clock. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

Pitch Timer

Pitch timers will be featured at Greater Nevada Field this season to increase the pace of play. Pitchers and batters have to be ready by the time the pitch clock runs down, or they risk penalty (adding a ball to the count for pitchers’ penalty, and a strike to the count for batters’ penalty).

If runners are on base, a pitcher will have extra time to throw each pitch, but there is a catch: if a pitcher attempts a pick-off or steps off the bag three times in the same at bat – and those attempts don’t result in an out – all baserunners advance. These rules were put into place during the 2021 Arizona Fall League and created, on average, a game time shorter by 20 minutes.

Larger Bases

This one sounds like it went straight from t-ball to the pro ranks. First, second, and third base are getting bigger – 3 inches bigger, to be exact. The three bases will now be 18-inch squares, aimed to reduce injury stemming from base-running. On top of this, increasing the base size inherently decreases the distance baserunners have to travel, which has increased the rate of successful stolen bases attempts according to the 2021 Arizona Fall League data.

Automated Balls and Strikes

You read that right – automated balls and strikes (ABS) are coming to Greater Nevada Field in 2022. Starting on May 17, ABS will be put in place across all of the Pacific Coast League. Umpires will still be in place on all positions of the field they typically would be; however, they will now have the calls be communicated to them through the automated system. The strike zone will be created by approximating the strike zone called by high-level umpires.

Also, at the Double-A level and below new defensive positioning rules essentially eliminate the “shift” that will require a minimum of four defenders in the infield (not counting pitcher and catcher) and there must be at least two players completely on either side of second base. The goal at the lower levels is to showcase the skill sets of prospects at specific positions.

Ballpark scenes from March 19, 2022 at Greater Nevada Field (Michael Smyth / This is Reno)

Holy (no) smokes, Batman!

Greater Nevada Field, in partnership with The Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, will be a completely smoke- and vape-free facility beginning on opening day.

The new policy will prohibit the use of all smoke and tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes (including Juul) and all vapes on ballpark property. Signage will be posted at all entrances of Greater Nevada Field and fans can expect educational messaging to be shared throughout Aces’ games all year.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with The Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition on this very important Tobacco Free initiative at Greater Nevada Field. We are constantly working to improve the ballpark experience for our fans and this is a big step in the right direction,” said Chris Phillips, Chief Operating Officer for the Aces.

New Threads in the BLC

The Reno Aces do their best to keep your closet outfitted with fresh looks. For 2022 there are some new spins on the red, white and blue Aces color scheme:

  • Something old – Classic home whites return with the addition of a new “R” Spade logo.
  • Something new – BLC goes dead-red. Featuring the classic “Reno” script across the chest and “BLC” logo on the sleeve. You’ll see these worn for every Sunday home date.
  • Something blue – Out is the “Reno” script for the new “R” Spade logo, complete with an “R” Spade hat to match.

So that’s just some of what’s happening as your Reno Aces head into 2022. Triple-A baseball is a great opportunity to see some of the stars of tomorrow up close before they get to “The Show.” In addition, on any given night you may see former major leaguers trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, current MLB stars working out the kinks after rehabbing an injury, and the occasional phenom on the fast track to stardom directly from High-A ball.

There isn’t a bad seat in the house at Greater Nevada Field, and if you just want to soak up some atmosphere, bring a blanket and hang out on the right field grass berm. Keep your eyes peeled for Archie, that nutty Aces mascot can pop up anywhere, at any time.

And speaking of popping up, sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” as loud as you’d like during the seventh inning stretch, but avert your eyes from whatever that blob is coming over the center field wall. That thing creeps me out big time.

See ya at the ballpark on April 12. Play ball!

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